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Death Of The Middle Manager

Posted by: Marc


Remember managers? They were all the rage last century, when professional advancement equated to the pursuit of authoritative job titles and everyone knew their place in the hierarchy. If you had no discernible skills other than irritating or coddling those who did, you could go far. Not so anymore.

A study by job-matching company TheLadders shows middle-management jobs in terminal decline, with technology stepping into the breach. The research analyzed common keywords and phrases used by recruiters in postings, and by job seekers in searches. Out of the top 10% of growing jobs, less than 2% of roles contain the words ‘manager’ or ‘director’ and overall, mid-management positions are decreasing in relative popularity.

Does this signify a fairer, more meritocratic distribution of compensation? Or is it just a semantic sleight of hand designed to bewilder the propagation of the status quo? In the tech industry at least, all signs point to the former. The three fastest-growing jobs (Dev Ops Engineer, iOS Developer and Data Scientist) didn’t even exist ten years ago. Other new additions to the recruitment lexicon include UX Designer, UI Developer and Android Developer – all in the top 10 job titles, each one posted 15 times more frequently than they were five years ago.

The commonality here is ‘developer’, which appears explicitly in three of the top 10 job titles, and is implied by almost all of the rest. Clearly, these roles require completely different skill sets than management, but those with the qualifications to do them can command similar pay packets to ‘managers’ and ‘directors’ due to high demand.

Commensurate with this shift in management structures, the growth of cloud computing is putting an end to much of the administrative legwork involved in coordinating large numbers of staff. Everything from payroll to production schedule can be managed by a shared infrastructure, with businesses only paying for what they need and upgrading as necessary. There’s no software or hardware to take care of. Different departments can talk to each other freely without having to escalate a problem through unwieldy management tiers before it reaches the person who can solve it.

As the market adjusts to reward highly skilled jobs at least as handsomely as nominal ‘leaders’, few are mourning the decline of a management culture that favours watching employees’ every move over real innovation. According to a decade-old survey cited in a Forbes article from 2013, micromanagement was ‘the most significant barrier to productivity’; a 2011 study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology concurred, with respondents saying ‘helicopter bosses’ and poor performance go hand in hand.

Of course, great managers do exist and remain essential to the success of businesses great and small. The problems arise when involved, effective leadership mutates into dictatorship, suspicion and incessant checking-in. When a detail-oriented, attentive team leader strays into control freakery, it’s bad news for everyone.

The middle manager is fast becoming an anachronism. The once-ubiquitous boss is making way for true leaders who command respect, not fear. And if there’s one thing this new raft of highly qualified developers and analysts have from their colleagues, it’s respect. The money follows the talent. The skills are, finally, paying the bills.


Marc is a Director of The Talent Hive and leads our IT recruitment practice. Originally from the UK, Marc has been living in Christchurch, New Zealand for ten years and working in the recruitment sector for just as long. Marc has worked as an in-house recruiter and within multinational recruitment consultancies and independent SME recruitment businesses.

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Categorised as: IT, Talent Search & Management